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The Tyranny of Expectations

Washington got some bad news regarding a star recruit. And then the Internet melted down.

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The moratorium has passed. The lights have come back on the Internet in Seattle and, I think, we can all come back out into the sunshine. Reality has set in. We need to all now acknowledge what has happened.

Fall camp has begun and, yes, Brandon Kaho is not going to be a Husky.

It has been a crazy couple of days around here. At one point during the height of the breaking news, the UWDP was among the top five in hits across the entire SB Nation multiverse.

Top five? Wow.

Since I know that Google didn’t all of a sudden find my latest Gekko Files entry and push it to the top of their virtual priority list, I’m going to guess that the Kaho news was the instigator for all of that fresh traffic. Call me crazy.

I certainly understand the teeth gnashing surrounding the defection of Kaho. Consider all of the factors that the UW fan base is grappling with as they absorb this news. First, there is the odd timing of it all happening just a day before camp is to begin. Then there are the raw emotions associated with the tumult that is reportedly going on around his family. There are also a stream of innuendos being tossed around about true motivations. And, finally, there is the fact that neither Chris Petersen nor the program have been all that transparent about the situation. An innocuous change to the online roster posting is about all you are going to get.

Admittedly, there is much there to still digest. And it’s only one day into fall camp.

The fact of the matter is that Kaho is hardly the first “big time” recruit to spurn UW at an inconvenient time. In fact, that title might actually belong to USC’s Marlon Tuipulotu who flipped from UW to USC just days before National Signing Day leaving UW without a defensive tackle in the 2017 class. That defection made it two straight years with no true defensive tackles being signed by UW and will likely present itself as a major contributor to a depth issue beginning next season.

Still, the reaction to the Kaho defection has made the Tuipulotu flip feel as irrelevant as if USC had actually flipped a punter. If you were to believe the noise, the trajectory of the 2018 season has now been altered, Oregon is poised to win the North and Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to announce the reinstatement of the Soviet Union, sickle and all.

It’s all a bit preposterous, but I suppose it is yet another signal that the University of Washington is starting to truly break into that so-called “national dialogue”. There are expectations - big expectations - surrounding this program in 2018 and they are not harbored by just the fan base.

Washington is carrying the torch for the entire PAC 12 just one season following what might have been the worst showing of the conference since before the USC sanctions. Recall that the PAC lost every single post-season appearance it made save for the Utes’s win over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This on the heels of not having a team selected to the playoffs at all. It included epic chokeouts of both USC and Washington against two Big Ten teams not to mention blowouts of both WSU (ranked #18), UCLA and Arizona State.

But this season is to be different. Players returning from injury, a bevy of returning starters, and seniors in key positions are all factors that have played well on the national scale. So well, in fact, that the Huskies opened the preseason Coaches Poll at #6. Joel Klatt of FOX Sports went on to Softy’s radio show on KJR during last week’s PAC 12 Media Day and went so far as to say that Washington’s game against Auburn in Week 1 is a “must-win” not just for UW but for the entire conference.

No pressure there, folks.

There are expectations behind this Washington team, to be sure. But those expectations are tenuous. National pundits who don’t know the roster well still have memories of Alabama and Penn State fresh in their minds. Regional hacks who follow the conference can’t help but to marvel at the recruiting momentum being mounted at Oregon and USC. Even local fans, who are still waiting for the Huskies under Chris Petersen to “win a big one”, feel a foreboding sense of trepidation fearing that the Huskies can afford very little attrition if they want to keep their hard-fought pinky hold on the ledge of national relevance.

Everybody is a little nervous even if they are all aligned in their projections for Washington’s season.

I have some good news, my friends: your Washington Huskies are the exact same team today that they were one week ago. No joke.

The Huskies without Brandon Kaho (if it is indeed the case that he will not ever wear a Husky uniform) are as perfectly imperfect as they have ever been. There are as many questions (receiver, interior line, linebacker) as there seemingly are answers (quarterback, running back, secondary, pass rush). Little, if anyting, has changed.

But with the spotlight that shines on being “the pick” in the conference comes the weight of expectation. That weight is awkward to bear and uncomfortable to maneuver around. The program is not accustomed to shouldering it just as its fans are clumsy in addressing it. Undoubtedly, it spoils the experience of the season and all that leads up to it just a little bit even if it is what we all as fans have been clamoring for over the course of the last few years.

And therein lies both the irony and the tyranny of great expectations.

Washington is hardly the first program to encounter this phenomenon, but it might be among the newest. Thus, it should be of no surprise to see the extra attention that bad news draws from the national audience. They all want to know whether or not this means that UW doesn’t really belong in the national conversation or if the loss of a five-star recruit at such an inopportune time is all that it is going to take put a crack in the hull of the U.S.S. Husky.

(by the way, you heard that he was the “highest rated” recruit that Chris Petersen has ever signed, right???)

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there isn’t a consequence to the loss of Kaho. UW isn’t Alabama. We don’t have five-star zits on the backs of five-star backups waiting to take over for five-star subs who need to step in for a five-star starter early in a camp. The questions about where this leaves UW at the linebacker position as we look out into the future are legit.

But the season ahead of us looks exactly as it did one week ago. Auburn is looming and nothing has really changed in that regard. The expectations may be high, but the process is still the same. And it is a fun thing to take in.

So enjoy it while you can.